Historian finds link to Obama's past in local cemetery

Historian finds link to Obama's past in local cemetery »Play Video
EVERETT, Wash. -- Spend a few minutes talking with Jim Shipman and it's obvious that he is passionate about history.

So, when he retired five years ago he started to research Civil War veterans buried here at Evergreen Cemetery.

He easily points out markers for those who fought in the war, and other local historical figures such as Emma Yule, the first school principal in Everett.

Then a fellow researcher gave him a name: Rachel Wolfley.

"I had a name, I looked it up and I found her buried here," Shipman said. The simple grave marker is spelled incorrectly as "Walfley."

"How that happened nobody knows," Shipman said of the spelling error. "But in 1911, this is just another person."

But now, nearly a century later, she's not just another person. And it's not her name that makes her famous -- it's that of her great-great-great grandson.

"I pulled up Barack Obama's genealogy and there she was, floating around in the sixth generation back," Shipman said.

Wolfley lived in Everett for four years with her daughter and son-in-law and, in the nearly 100 years since her burial, the concrete marker has been here, tucked away and unnoticed.

"This marker had sunk down and it was covered with grass we had to dig down to find it," Shipman said.

When he found it, Shipman said his first reaction was one of surprise: "I thought, 'Wow!' The odds are like a needle in a large haystack."

Everett Public Library Historian David Dilgard said it was exciting to find a new local historical connection.

"We always describe this cemetery as being sort of a biographical encyclopedia of the community, and so anytime someone noteworthy comes to our attention, we're always excited about it," Dilgard said.

Shipman is raising money to replace the grave marker with a more permanent one that spells Wolfley's name correctly.